MIAMI – Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen knows rookie quarterbacks can win in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
His guy can, anyway.
And now Miami is about to see if its freshman can answer the challenge.
Stephen Morris' ascension from fourth-stringer to starter — a path that unexpectedly started a week ago — becomes complete Saturday, when Miami (5-3, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) hosts the Terrapins (6-2, 3-1). The Hurricanes need a win to keep slim ACC hopes alive, while Maryland would be assured of remaining no worse than a half-game out of the Atlantic Division lead with a victory.
"We're going to have to go down and play the best we've played all year to be in this game," Friedgen said.
Maryland's Danny O'Brien has 10 touchdowns and no interceptions at home. But the redshirt freshman has three touchdown passes and three interceptions in two trips away from College Park; the interceptions all came in a loss at Clemson, the TD throws all came a week later in a victory at Boston College.
Right there, that proves freshmen quarterbacks can be up and down — a lesson the Hurricanes got last week in Morris' debut.
Taking over when Jacory Harris was knocked out with a concussion, Morris threw two interceptions against Virginia, then got hot in a torrid three-touchdown, six-minute stretch of the fourth quarter when the Hurricanes made a 24-0 game into a 24-19 affair. Morris ran for a score and threw for two more, but never got the ball again after Miami's final TD with 4½ minutes remaining.
"Jacory's the calmest cat I've ever seen, and I just try to mimic him in all ways possible," Morris said.
Maryland will test Morris' coolness. The Terrapins might feature as many different blitz packages as anyone in the ACC, and they'll try to test Morris with plenty of them on Saturday.
"We just kind of do what we do. We tweak it a little bit each week," Friedgen said. "But some teams handle it well, some teams don't. I'm assuming that Miami sees a lot of that. They're one of the top teams in the country. They're going to be prepared for it."
It's Morris' team now, at least for the short term.
How long that'll be the case remains officially unclear.
A person familiar with Harris' recovery process told The Associated Press that it could take at least two weeks before the junior returns, meaning Morris would figure to start again next week against Georgia Tech. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because Miami had not authorized releasing specific information about Harris' condition.
"This week isn't going to be the Stephen Morris show," Miami coach Randy Shannon said. "Everyone's going to have to do their job and play their part."
Until a week ago, Morris thought this would be a redshirt season. And with Harris still just a junior, it stood to reason that the Hurricanes wouldn't have asked Morris to play a big role until 2012.
One hit — the one that knocked Harris out of the game in Virginia — changed everything.
"We're not looking for Stephen to win the game," Shannon said. "We're looking for Stephen Morris just to manage the game, and some guys around him have to really step up and play some good defense."
Against Maryland, that's probably a good idea.
The Terrapins are one of only three major college teams to score 60 or more points twice in a game this season. Oregon has done it three times, Oklahoma State twice, and Maryland put up 62 against both Morgan State and Wake Forest.
Then again, Maryland isn't always an offensive juggernaut, either, averaging 328 yards in conference games this season — ninth-best in a 12-team league.
"It's been a crazy ride ... but right now we need to get ready for Miami," O'Brien said. "And that's where my focus is right now."
Miami's focus might be all over the map right now.
Losing at Virginia cost the Hurricanes control of the Coastal race, top running back Damien Berry will miss Saturday's game with a sore quadriceps muscle (though he's expected back next week), and even the weather — game time temperatures are supposed to be unseasonably cool, around the low 60s — doesn't seem to be on Miami's side.
The Hurricanes say they're undeterred.
After their final practice of the week, every Miami defensive player hopped on the back of someone from the offensive side of the ball for a 50-yard piggyback ride.
They whooped. They hollered. They slapped each other's helmets.
Watching it, one would never know their ACC title hopes are at stake.
"I don't think they'll be tight this week," Shannon said. "I think they'll play great."